Thick, fatty burgers are a thing of the past. Paper-thin patties on buttery buns with a killer burger sauce, tons of pickles, layers of crisp iceberg lettuce, cooked and raw onions, and some cheap melty cheese. This Smash Burgers recipe will undoubtedly replace any previous burger technique.
What is a Smash Burger?
At its most basic, a smash burger is a quick and easy way to cook an incredibly delicious burger. Instead of combining ground beef, aromatics, and spices, you let the beef shine by smashing a large ball of ground beef into a hot pan. The smashing technique and the very hot pan brown the beef, imparting flavor and a lovely crust.
You can top it however you want, but traditional toppings include burger sauce (aka smash sauce), pickles, onions, cheese, and lettuce.
Why This Recipe Works
There’s a lot to say about this recipe, but let’s start with the fact that it’s incredibly simple to make and can easily be modified to serve fewer people or, more realistically, a hungry army.
Getting Crisp Edges
Smash burgers are delicious because of the crispy edges of the burger patty. With piping hot flat tops on hand, fast food restaurants can easily churn these out all day. We needed to find a way to get that beautiful char without using a flat top. The cast-iron skillet comes into play. After about 5 minutes of preheating, you can get a nice sear on almost anything. Before adding the beef balls, we toast the buns in the bare skillet.
For this recipe, all you need is a cast-iron skillet. Everything is done in one pan, and your burger is ready in just 4 minutes. The seasoned beef is smashed into the cast iron skillet first. After a minute, add some onions, top with cheese, and let the onions griddle while the burger cooks and the cheese melts.
Test Kitchen Tips
The smashing is the most important step in making smash burgers. (I know, it’s shocking.) We recommend using a strong, heavy-duty spatula to withstand much pressure without bending or snapping.
If you’re like us and don’t have one of those, you can use a solid spatula paired with a potato masher (no holes). First, press the beef ball with the spatula, then press top-down with the potato masher until flattened.
When making smash burgers in the kitchen, it can get quite smoky. So before you begin, we recommend you turn on your kitchen vent or open some windows.
Before you begin cooking, prepare any toppings you intend to use. Because the burgers cook so quickly, you should be ready to assemble them as soon as they come out of the skillet.
For recipe development, the Zestful Kitchen Test Kitchen employs Morton kosher salt. If using Diamond Crystal, convert 1 12 teaspoons Morton kosher salt to 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
We recommend using fattier ground beef than usual. Something containing 15 to 20% fat. We believe that 80/20 is best for smash burgers because when heated and smashed, the beef releases some of its fat into the skillet, causing it to be brown and crisp.
Also, remember that fat is flavor! The more flavorful your smash burger, the fattier the beef.
We all have strong feelings about pickles. Refrigerated whole kosher dill pickles are our go-to pickles for smash burgers. In our opinion, it’s all about the refrigerated pickle. They’re MUCH fresher, have less color added, and simply taste better. Make some into chips for the burgers and some into spears to serve on the side.
Nothing beats a burger topped with a few crisp layers of iceberg lettuce. It’s simply the only way. Folding a couple of lettuce leaves creates multiple layers and an exceptional crunch.
You must go all in if you want to make a smashing burger. This includes ultra-cheesy American cheese. We prefer the convenience of individually wrapped Kraft Singles, but a chunk of American cheese can be found at most meat and cheese counters. We recommend avoiding hard or aged cheeses, but the best cheese for a burger is whatever you like on a burger.
This recipe calls for our super-secret, super-fancy (kidding) burger sauce. Our Smash Sauce, or “special sauce,” is made with whole-grain mustard, prepared yellow mustard, and olive oil mayonnaise in equal parts. There’s something special about this combination! We make extra on grilled cheese, deli-style sandwiches, and even brats. It also works well as a fry sauce.
Brioche hamburger buns are preferred in the test kitchen. They’re soft, buttery, and just a tad sweet. Potato buns are another excellent choice.
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